Volume 8, Issue 6 - November/December 2006

Expert Advice

Viva la Difference
by Kerry Wanstrath

Why is such a small thing such a big deal?

Let’s be honest, windshield repair is a small speck compared to the overall United States economy. Why then does it continue to be a target of controversy and a service manipulated by those on the outside of the actual service? Since I became involved in the business in 1984, it has been embraced by insurance, scorned by glass shops, then dropped by insurance, and then adopted by glass shops. Go figure. Car washes, quick lubes, detailers, used car dealers and just about any auto service business you can name has either added repair or considered doing so at some time. Why then, is such a widely accepted and mutually beneficial product always under the microscope? 

What made me ask this question was a lunch I had recently with a distributor of our products. He was telling us about his main business, which is a repair service for leather, vinyl and other fabrics to rejuvenate the interiors of cars. This service adversely impacts no one; so naturally it would not be controversial. My customer told me he just thinks about how to improve his business. He doesn’t have to think about whether or not someone, someday, is going to tell him he can’t do repairs. How nice it would be if the windshield repair industry was like that. We wouldn’t have to look over our shoulders constantly. What’s the difference?

Aftermarket, A ha
As I see it, the main difference is there is no organized aftermarket for installing new seats or dashes or torn or ripped upholstery in a car. There is, however, a big and highly organized aftermarket for installing aftermarket windshields. In fact, it is a huge business. I have seen estimates that about 15 million windshields and windows are replaced or repaired annually. Based on a $300 average replacement, that’s $4.5 billion annually—an amount that would capture anyone’s attention. As the number of repairs performed each year increases, that attention is getting more focused. I don’t fault anyone for having a large market; in fact I think it would be great if more of a car was made of glass.

I find it puzzling, however, that something so simple and minuscule in market size needs to be registered, licensed, regulated, certified, networked and standardized. Clearly improving our industry and the service we provide is a worthwhile cause if these efforts are left in the hands of the industry and free enterprise. But it becomes very tempting for some to lobby the government to legislate these requirements. That’s where I take issue. What is wrong with letting free enterprise work? 

Insurance work is decreasing each passing year. Unless this trend reverses, repair and replacement may soon be a consumer business. With that a possibility, is there a need for outside interference? Only you and the customer. Ahhhhh!

Kerry Wanstrath is vice president and chief operating officer of Glass Technology, Durango, Colo.

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